And ye shall know the truth, and it shall set you free…

MCFly attended the Faith Network of Manchester conference about Faith and the Environment, at the wonderful MERCi building in Ancoats. It was one of those evenings where everyone (between 35 and 45 people, slightly older than average ‘climate’ meetings tend to be) had a good time, but that you leave with nagging doubts about its effectiveness. Good grub, good chat, but not as incisive or interactive as it might have been…

After housekeeping and a brief intro to the history of MERCi (sustainable in many ways) we had four speakers.
On Buddhism, Clive Pyot spoke about his own community and the precepts he tries to follow. For more on Buddhism and the environment, see here. If it was true back in ol‘ Gautama’s day that all existence is suffering, what’s it gonna be like when the positive feedback loops kick in, eh?

On Christianity Rev John Hughes spoke about people’s definitions of Christianity (he favours “God is, as Jesus is, therefore there is hope”) and Operation Noah and ecofeminism

The representative of Islam, Zahid Hussein, spoke of the Ecomosque project, and Rabbi Warren Elf finished off the session with a brief take on Judaism and the guidance to be found in the Torah.

Because of significant time over-runs, there was no time for questions and discussion in the big group- everyone legged it for the food, which was vegetarian and delicious (huzzah to the cook!)

There was an invitation and expectation that we should all “schmooze”, but this was not done coercively (name badges, enforced mingling etc) so people seemed to largely stick with those they already knew.) After a nice long break, we climbed back to the top of the building. Initially we were told that, as per the plan, we were going to get into groups to tackle very specific questions and come up with one-sentence pledges that would be stitched into a big pledge. Then followed some extended introductions, and since time was then very short, the initial plan was curtailed, and we were invited to be in big groups (of about 10 people) to discuss things generally and fill in a pledge leaf for a pledge tree. In MCFly’s experience these groups tend to be dominated by one or three people, with the others drifting off mentally if not physically, so we cast ourselves out of the land of Nod.

MCFly’s unsolicited advice– The evening might have been more intriguing and thought-provoking if the speakers had been invited to wrestle with one or more of the following-

  • 1) My faith’s doctrine and how it does or doesn’t equate with “sustainability.” What are the tensions, what have the tensions been historically?
  • 2) The existing PRACTICE of my faith and how it does/doesn’t equate with sustainability (i.e. is there a gap between my doctrine and my faith’s practice around environment, and if so why.)
  • 3) What are the OBSTACLES that stand in the way if I try to make my doctrine/practice more in line with sustainability?

After all, for each religion there are problems;

Christians have the dilemma between the two bits of Genesis in which God says “hey, this creation is yours to subdue, fill yer boots” [domination] or else He/She says “look, I’m giving you this to look after” [stewardship]. Further, some evangelical Christians (and yes, I know some- and like them) – are very unconcerned about Climate Change because God Has A Plan. This segues nicely into Buddhism– there are some interpretations that allow people to meh, it’s all just one big cycle o’ suffering, so what’s the point trying to hold stuff together- everything changes”. I’m not saying it’s a right interpretation, but it is prevalent.

Islam– well, take a look at the Haj- is flying to Mecca more than once (or even once…) compatible with sustainability? It’s one big can of worms- ass soon as you start dissing people’s interpretations of what it means to be a good adherent to their faith, it’s gonna get messy. (Please not, most of the world’s Muslims seem to live in countries with pretty low per capita carbon emissions. Before Westerners start lecturing, we might need to sort out the plank in our own eyes).

Judaism– I am not so clear on the tensions within it on environmental issues, but you could- without conflating Judaism and Israel- take a look at Israel’s environmental record (nothing to write home about), and the reasons for the weakness of its environmental movement.

The point is, these problems (and others) exist. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be in this mess. It seems a pity to hold an event that focusses solely on the good things that are going on. There has to be SOME time devoted to the problems, and how they might be overcome. If not, we simply violently agree with each other and are none-the-wiser for dealing with the real problems, because they haven’t been named. As a Quaker might say, we’ve not born witness.

Given that the total time spent on the four speakers was closer to an hour than 40 minutes, despite the invocation on the agenda “max 10 mins each” it might have been better to have a fifth speaker- a secular humanist, or an animist or a pagan as well, and kept everyone strictly to their time (with a card held up to give them a two minute warning, or some such).

MCFly’s two pence. In vulgar anthropological terms, religion is part of terror management, and also a way of maintaining social solidarity and rules of engagement within (and less commonly between) tribes. To that extent, religions mostly seem to follow the Golden Rule, which Christians will explain as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Kant’s categorial imperative yadder yadder. (And a nice little side line in telling you to behave in this life cos you get your reward in the next. But we digress…)

Well, if you’re gonna retrofit the Golden Rule for “the Environment”, you simply need to say that “others” means not just other hairless two-legged apes stumbling about now but ALSO other species AND other humans and species that haven’t yet been born.

Voila. We’ll send you an invoice.

Random important quote

“Activism is my rent for living on this planet.” Alice Walker

Further Reading

The stuff about Buddhism in Only Planet (page 111-113
The Ecology of Eden by Evan Eisenberg (long, but really really amazingly good. If you skim the ‘Earth Jazz tosh, that is)
Dancing towards Armageddon by

Things MCFly thinks they should read, if someone invents an extra 12 hours in the day

The Great Transformation, by Karen Armstrong


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
This entry was posted in Faith Network for Manchester, MERCi, Religion and climate change. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to And ye shall know the truth, and it shall set you free…

  1. Jenny says:

    A photo montage of the FATE event is on the Environment Network for Manchester website here:, Jen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s